After the sea survival course, it was time to head over to Gosport Marina and meet up with our Skipper for the week, Juan Coetzer (Skipper of Geraldton Western Australia in the 11-12 Clipper Race). I would be sailing on CV9 Qingdao with 8 others who had decided, like me, that the end of January would be the perfect time of year to spend a week at sea in the Solent and English Channel. I think most of us had chosen January to do training so that we would have more chance of experiencing sailing in colder, rougher weather; the forecast for the week showed that we weren’t going to be disappointed.
After our gear was stowed in our bunks, it was time to get started on introductions, safety briefings and theory for the week as dinner was being cooked in the galley. The great thing about doing the sea survival course first was that we were already fairly relaxed with each other as a crew, having spent the day towing each other around the pool and huddled in a liferaft, so the jokes were already flying around. After a few hours, it was time to go and continue the crew bonding over a drink in the pub, but not before the skipper had told us that we would be starting at 6am the next morning… so fairly early nights all round then!
The following morning was taken up with safety, engine and deck checks, all of which had to be completed before we could set sail from the marina. Finally, it was time to head out to sea. The wind was being kind to us, so we only needed to put one reef in the mainsail. We spent the afternoon recapping the drills we had learned during our Level 1 training like tacking and gybing before returning to the marina for more theory.
The next morning we awoke bright and early – the boat had to be cleaned down below and rigged up on deck before we were going to have breakfast! Incentive enough to get things moving quickly! The wind had picked up overnight and was blowing 20 knots – it was going to make for a physically challenging day at sea, especially as the plan was to cover all we had learned during our level 1 training in a day.
We had an additional crew member on board, Dobie, who would be our Man Overboard dummy for the week. In Level 1, man overboard drills were carried with a fender; Dobie was going to make searching and recovery of a ‘person’ from the water a bit more realistic and he would be going over the side of the boat. At least one crew member wears a climbing harness whilst we are sailing so that if there is a man overboard, or Dobie overboard, that person can be lowered over the side of the boat to recover the casualty. There are many reasons you have to quickly learn to work as a team and trust each other as a crew – this is one of them.
After a full day of sailing, I was on the helm, helming a 68 foot yacht upwind in waves for the first time. I didn’t get much chance to helm these yachts during my level 1 training, due to my encounter with the ankle breaker, so I was savouring the experience. I also happened to be the person wearing the climbing harness. I think we all thought that we wouldn’t be carrying out a man overboard drill in the conditions we were sailing in – the wind had picked up to 30 knots and it was getting dark.This video was shot around this time.
How wrong were we! We were told afterwards that as these were the sort of conditions when people ususally fall overboard, it was good experience to practise recovering them in the same conditions. At least I had had a bit of notice about the drill, when it was suggested that I pass the harness onto another crew member. It wasn’t worth risking damaging my ankle this early in the week, so I agreed and stayed on the helm, and Dobie was sent over the side.
To say our man overboard (mob) drill left a lot of room for improvement was an understatement. In the fading light, it was difficult to keep track of the person in the water, even though there was a light attached to the dummy and we managed to send the buoy with the flag over the side relatively close to Dobie. We temporarily lost sight of the mob but managed to find the flag and therefore the dummy nearby after about 20 minutes. The person who recovered Dobie was lowered slightly too far into the water, so much so that their lifejacket had automatically inflated. It was a sobering experience, especially with Dobie being so lifelike. It certainly brought home the reality of the situation to us all – being overboard in any sort of weather was not somewhere that we would want to be.